Here’s What to Do If You Think You Have Mastitis

Everything breastfeeding moms need to know to feel better fast

By: Amanda Mushro

129301969

Photo by: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

You and your baby have finally gotten into the swing of breastfeeding. Good job! But then it happens. Your baby starts sleeping longer stretches (yay!) and you get to sleep longer stretches (yay!). However, you wake up engorged and in pain, and the pain doesn’t go away. Or you start feeling sick and breastfeeding becomes painful. What’s going on? Well, you might have mastitis.

Mastitis is so common that around 1 in 10 women will experience it while breastfeeding. It’s painful and can leave you feeling sick, frustrated, and interrupt your nursing sessions. Knowing a little more about mastitis can help you prevent this annoying infection and know how and when to get treatment if you notice the symptoms.

What is mastitis?
Mastitis is a painful infection that develops in breast tissue that most commonly affects breastfeeding moms. While mastitis is most common in the first three months of nursing, it can happen anytime. It usually only happens in one breast, starts with engorgement, and is followed by pain, fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms.

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

  • Tender breast
  • Breast swelling and/or warm to the touch
  • Hardness, thickening of breast tissue, or a breast lump
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling tired
  • Fever of 101℉ or greater

What causes mastitis?
There are three common causes of mastitis:
1) Milk that’s trapped in the breast. This can happen when your baby starts sleeping through the night or you don’t completely empty your breasts during feedings.
2) A blocked milk duct. If a breast isn't completely empty, a blockage can occur and lead to an infection.
3) Bacteria from your skin or the baby’s mouth enters the milk ducts through a crack in the nipple or a milk duct opening. Again, if the milk isn’t completely emptied, the bacteria grows and causes the infection.

How is mastitis diagnosed?
If you think you might have mastitis, call your doctor. There’s a few ways to diagnosis mastitis:

  • In most cases, your doctor will perform an exam
  • For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe
    breastmilk culture
  • ultrasound
  • blood cultures

What is the treatment for mastitis?
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the mastitis. As you recover, there are other ways to help your body recoup:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Rest
  • Continue nursing (even if it’s painful)
  • Massage the area to help loosen any clogged breast milk
  • Pump in between feedings to loosen a clogged duct
  • Use a cold compress to relieve pain and swelling
  • Ask your doctor if you can take a pain reliever like Tylenol or Motrin to reduce pain and swelling

How can you prevent mastitis?

  • After each feeding, fully drain the milk from your breasts. This may mean you need to pump after feedings
  • During a feeding, allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other
  • Change up the positions you use to breast-feed
  • Place a warm compress on your breast before breastfeeding to help the flow of breast milk
  • Check your baby’s latch and if you need help with this, talk to your doctor or a lactation expert
  • Stay ahead of engorgement by pumping
  • Avoid wearing tight bras or clothes
  • If you use breast pads, change them often
  • Wash and change your nursing bra
  • If you choose to wean your baby, do it gradually so your milk supply will gradually go down

Can I get mastitis more than once?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but once you get mastitis, you could be prone to another bout of it. So it’s important to know the signs, know how to prevent it, take care of yourself while nursing, and reach out to your doctor right away if you notice any of the symptoms.

The good news is, with early treatment, mastitis can usually be cleared up in a day or two. So take care of yourself while you take care of your baby.

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